Abide in my love

Easter 6B

In the name of God: who envisions love, who embodies love, and who empowers love.  Amen.

Last week we heard the story of the Ethiopian eunuch - a trusted servant of his queen, a wealthy and in many ways respected member of his society, but also still one who was somehow set apart.  He was viewed as less than a man.  The religious leaders of his time declared him to be permanently unclean - unfit for the privilege of worship.  But even so, God doesn’t follow the religious leaders.  We are meant to follow God.  So Philip was drawn to him by the Holy Spirit.  Their paths crossed, and together they explored the good news of God in Christ.  So moved by their exploration, and the deeper love of God and commitment to God that it inspired, the eunuch asked to be baptized.  Philip didn’t really even have to think about it, he knew that it was right.  He knew that it was right to invite this too-often rejected man into the fold of Christ.  He knew that God would never reject one who came seeking a deeper knowledge and love of God.

But the story of baptism goes on from even there.  The story of the Ethiopian eunuch isn’t some kind of anomaly in the life of the Christian faith.  It’s the norm – the standard.  It’s every bit what is expected of God and the church.  Come and be welcomed, embraced, and fully integrated in the whole of your being – without reservation.

It wasn’t just some isolated incident.  Elsewhere, and with a different leader of that same early church, the Holy Spirit was drenching whole communities in love, even when that was a surprise for everyone around.

Today we hear the story of Peter.  While he was still speaking, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard…”  Then this reading from the Acts of the Apostles spells it out a little clearer, still: “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles…”  Astounded, it said.  They were astounded that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would spread more widely than they previously could have imagined.

It is astounding, isn’t it?  It’s another story of the astounding reach of Christ’s saving embrace.  It’s so wide that it’s not even contained within one time and place.  It’s not even contained within the ministry of one leader.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit are poured out on anyone who will have them.  That’s how the Holy Spirit works.  That’s how the love of God works.  That’s how Christ calls us to love, as well: overflowingly and recklessly.  Wastefully.

In the words of the Gospel that we hear today, we hear more of that commandment.  The words may sound familiar to you - it wasn’t that long ago that we heard them: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

We’re six weeks into Easter, but these words are almost the same as those we heard from Jesus on Maundy Thursday: the night of the Last Supper, the night before Christ would be crucified, the night that he first gave us this new commandment.  The disciples sat around the table with Christ, feeling the tension, but unsure of what might come.  Then he said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

That commandment must have sounded very different to them on the resurrection side of the line than it did on the crucifixion side.  They must have known so much more what love meant, because by then they’d seen it, and heard it, and smelled it in the most basic and primal and painful ways that anyone could imagine.

Even on our side of the resurrection – as distant as it may seem, it’s important to remember: this is what it’s all about.  It’s about the love.  It’s about the love that was freely poured over all of those followers by the Holy Spirit - even those followers that no one might have expected to be worth it.  It’s about the ridiculous love that was poured over the disciples by Jesus, even when they so often didn’t deserve it.  It’s about the inexplicable love that is still so often poured over us when we, too, so often don’t deserve it.  Everything we do here is about that love.  Everything that the church is supposed to be is about that love.  It’s ALL about the love.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”  That distinction is critical for the church. When we love the dream of community we love ideas more than lives. When we love the dream of community, we value things more than the people who use them…  But when we love those people around us we create community.  To break it down even further: When we love, we create – and that is God’s work for us.

That’s the work of the church.  That’s what it means to abide in God’s love.  Love overcomes everything else.  All of our things are unimportant in comparison.  Our habits and traditions are unimportant.  Everything that we expect and plan on and hope for and dream about withers in unimportance when considered against what it means to love one another.  As long as we have that kind of love, everything else will be okay.

It’s easy for the church to set up idols.  It’s easy to misplace our worship in things that seem, on the surface at least, to be more concrete.  But no foundation is more solid than the love that God has for us, and no structure built upon it could be more secure than our love for one another as Christ has commanded us.

If you look in the back of the Prayer Book in the catechism, where it talks about sacraments, it describes them as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.”  This love is that “inward and spiritual grace” that we celebrate in baptism.  We heard stories of it these past couple of weeks, but it’s important to try to remember it.  The Holy Spirit is poured out over us.  We are within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace.  And most importantly, love creates.

If we remember that, we will always be the community that God dreams about – and the community that God loves into being.  Amen.